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ISBN-10: 1-55404-381-6
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Medieval
eBook Length: 259 Pages
Published: August 2006

From inside the flap

The shadow. A Waniand mercenary, cowled in black, dark and forbidding. Preece the Warmonger, also called the Royal Blade. Rumors about him suggest the creature beneath the black cowl is not entirely human. Starlight. A woman of bright gentian tresses and rare beauty, promised in marriage to the prince regent of another realm. Given in wedlock not as a cherished prize but as a secret weapon meant to topple the reigning monarchy ... unless the Warmonger can find a way to prevent the marriage, even if it means risking both their lives in an act of outright treason. Even if it means losing Moreya herself, his memory, his very reason for living. Yet Destiny has waited for just this turn in the wheel of time and human events. A prophecy must be fulfilled, the future of ancient bloodlines secured. Preece must return to reclaim all he once lost--including Moreya, the Yune beauty with the trusting innocence of a child and the courageous heart of a dragon. Eppie Award Winner

Reviews and Awards

"Attraction and respect of hero and heroine make enjoyable fantasy even better"
Reviewed by Janet Miller
Courtesy ParaNormal Romance
Posted April 13, 2002

SHADOW IN STARLIGHT is a fantasy romance set in another time and another place. Moreya Fa Yune is a young intelligent woman, the daughter of one of the most respected ambassadors in the kingdom of Glacia. Unfortunately, her father has died, choked to death on a piece of meat Read more...

"A glorious medieval fantasy that you?ll be loath to put down!"
Reviewed by Leslie Tramposch
Courtesy PNR
Posted September 5, 2002

SHADOW IN STARLIGHT is a medieval fantasy that will keep the reader enthralled well into the night. Moreya Fa Yune is left in shock by an audience with the Glacian King. It would appear that her late father, who had been the king’s ambassador, had arranged for her marriage to Read more...


Chapter 1

"Forsooth, a wry misadventure," King Cronel declared with a heavy sigh. "Your father will be sorely missed. He was one of my most valued advisors."

Wry misadventure?

Moreya Fa Yune tore her gaze from the beringed hand her sovereign waved as he droned on about how Anthaal Fa had averted war more than once with his polished speeches and calm demeanor. How well Lord Fa had acquitted himself in the peace negotiations following the great battle in Tuleskeff, how well liked the royal emissary had been here at court.

Well liked, it seemed, by everyone but the royal cook, whose body sagged on a pikestaff at the castle gates. The king decreed swift and lethal punishment for the man who?d prepared the sumptuous meal Moreya’s father had fatally choked upon. The cook was executed even before Moreya arrived under guard at Cronel’s castle, mere days after her father’s unexpected demise.

A wry misadventure, indeed, she reflected darkly. Her father had spent years traveling at the king’s behest, visiting both near and distant realms. Anthaal had eaten roasted yak and caribou, boiled serpent, pickled vermin; he?d boasted of dauntless digestion and unwavering good fortune. Other reeves had been struck by lances or arrows upon occasion. Anthaal suffered not so much as a scratch. He convinced warriors to lay aside their weapons, arranged vital trade pacts and defense alliances. He boldly strode unarmed into many a war camp and lived to stride out again.

Only to return to his native Glacia, and strangle on a chunk of roast boar in the palace hall. Leaving Moreya bereft and confused.

"Thank you, Your Majesty," she mumbled, when Cronel finally stopped praising his dead ambassador and reached for a cup of wine. A serving girl rushed forward to mop at the king’s sweaty brow with a silken cloth. Moreya focused upon his damp forehead and kept her eyes averted from the king’s flashing rings and pudgy fingers.

"Your sire had just returned from Greensward," Cronel announced, pinning Moreya with his sharp gaze. "He sought my permission to arrange a betrothal for you, Lady Fa."

A betrothal? Her father had said nothing of this, not one word about marriage or setting up a contract. Moreya’s stomach tightened into a knot. Here was the true reason she?d been summoned by guards storming Anthaal Fa’s home. She?d known, of course, that she and her father occupied the ambassador’s sprawling manor as part of the king’s largesse. Upon learning of her father’s demise, she assumed the king would expect her to find lodgings elsewhere.

A sense of impending dread warned she was about to discover precisely where now.

"You shall wed the prince regent of Greensward," King Cronel proclaimed.

A collective gasp echoed off the marble walls.

Moreya stood at the base of a flight of steps leading to a broad dais and Cronel’s throne. The throne room was a massive chamber of polished marble. High-backed wooden chairs aligned against the outer walls. Massive entry doors were perpetually flanked by guards and castle pages. She?d been granted a personal audience, but she was far from alone in the room.

The king’s bold announcement had wrought a stiff silence fraught with expectation. She must respond, yet how?

She had absolutely no idea what to say in the face of such absurdity. Her father had been a high privy council member, a trusted royal advisor-but still and all, merely lackey to the Glacian king. The Fa line boasted no royal blood. Anthaal had been a petty noble, considered by most to have been more than fortunate in his own match with a Yune woman of gentle birth. Moreya’s mother had been a distant cousin to a sovereign of the far realms. Moreya couldn?t imagine that any royal family would have agreed to a match between a future king and herself-a woman of little consequence.

"Surely there is some misunderstanding, Your Highness," she said softly. She did not want to antagonize him. Her gaze swept up from the steps to where Cronel sat, to the heavy crown resting on rumpled white locks framing a florid, piggish face.

She had been to court before, of course, to be formally presented to the monarch. She had been a child the first time, and foolishly spoke her mind.

"Why does the king have so many fingers, Father? I count six on each hand!"

Courtiers and ladies in waiting had coughed and tittered, locking their eyes on Cronel to see how he?d react to being so baldly insulted. Cronel had laughed and pronounced Anthaal Fa’s daughter a most clever girl. Then he?d explained that was why he was king. He was born with excess digits. He was, he told her with pride, a polydact. A person with more than the usual number of fingers and toes. The excess proved he was superior, meant to rule. Everyone accepted the fact.

She had been tempted to reply that it seemed to her everyone had made a silly mistake, then. She had once owned a kitten with too many toes its front paws. It had been a troublesome animal, and no better hunter than its littermates. But her father squeezed her shoulder in warning, so she?d kept silent. As she grew in years and understanding, she learned the politics of the throne . . . that Cronel was a bastard who?d risen to rule after viciously slaughtering anyone who stood between him and power.

Allowing this fat bastard to order everyone about merely because he was a polydact seemed preposterous still, but Moreya would hold her tongue on that point. He did, after all, hold her very life in the twelve fingers of his fat hands. But she would not remain silent about the Prince of Greensward.

This gallows humor was too cruel to ignore. "There is a mistake, surely."

"No mistake, my dear. Nay. Indeed, the betrothal pact was the cause for our celebration-er, that is, I regarded it as quite an accomplishment, even for your renowned father. He spent nearly a fortnight with Queen Vela. All is in readiness. You will leave on the morrow for Greensward, where you shall be wed within the month."

"But Your Majesty, I-"

The chamber doors flew open. Moreya glanced back over her shoulder and quickly ducked to one side. A knot of grappling men whooshed past her to the foot of the dais steps. She realized they were castle guards wrestling with a prisoner. His arms were pinioned behind him. Moreya could see little but black and grey disheveled waves on the back of his head.

A trio of royal guardsmen came forward. Each guard tensed at the knife or sword pressed against his throat, held at the ready by common soldiers. The men who?d overtaken the guards wore no colored surcoats or distinctive blazons. Who were they then, motley outlaws and vagrants?

She debated whether to remain where she stood or dash to safety behind a sturdy chair. Would anyplace be safe, or was the castle itself under siege? These knaves dared mock royal guards at bladepoint! Yet surely, had the royal palace been overrun, there would be more troops swarming about, she reasoned. A great many, bound for this very chamber.

A deep voice spoke up. "Damn it, Cronel, do you have naught better to do than keep signing those fool warrants? What’s the sot accused of this time? Wiping his ass with royal bed linens? Tupping a prize ewe? Mistaking your belly for an ale keg?"

Something black loomed at the edge of Moreya’s vision. Big and black and somehow producing the words they?d all heard quite audibly. Dangerous, sarcastic, treacherous words.

Which had been spoken, she now saw, by a tall, imposing figure who stood just a few feet from her. His head and face were completely obscured by an oversized dark cowl. He offered a mocking bow toward the dais. Moreya swallowed and inched back slightly, but felt her skirt hitch.

The stranger’s broadsword had snagged the hem of her kirtle!

Fighting a vision of herself being bodily dragged before the high executioner, her garments still entangled with the blade of this brash rebel, she tugged. The cloth tore with a slight rending sound . . . which might have gone unnoticed, had every soul in the throne room not been straining in hushed anticipation for what might happen next.

The cowl pivoted in Moreya’s direction. "I hope your skirts haven?t dulled the keen edge of my broadsword, madam. ?Twould be a shame to have to skewer the king on my best eating dagger."

Appalled, she responded without thinking. "Could you not find some less flamboyant way to die, sir? A wild animal in the forest, a joust, a bold leap off one of the nearby mountain peaks. Your blade may be keen, but the like cannot be said of your wits!"

"Bested by a maid!" The king let out a roaring guffaw and laughter exploded in the room. Cronel slowly descended the dais steps, pausing to release another loud chortle. "So, the Warmonger cometh, at last. Did you answer my page’s summons, like any other knight of the realm, I?d not have to resort to warrants against your men. Release Sir Graeme."

The guards let go of the rumpled fellow in their midst, who smoothed a hand over stained garments. He hiccuped as he tossed a baleful look toward the stranger in the cowl. "I?d drunk only a cupful, I swear it, Preece."

Preece. Warmonger.

Oh, Good Creator, what had she done?

Moreya nearly fainted at the realization that the man she?d just insulted was none other than the legendary dark knight. Subject of murmured tales her father had shared with Drix, the captain of their home guard, or male visitors. Anthaal had never spoken to Moreya directly of the cowled-one’s escapades, but she?d overheard enough to know she definitely stood before her sovereign at the wrong time. Next to a ruthless warrior who had abundant reason to mark her continued presence. Ill fortune, indeed.

She?d assumed the craven stranger wore a cowl to hide his face as he led some brash, final assault against their sovereign.

But Sir Preece was reputed to wear a dark cowl at all times. To obscure a hideously deformed face and head, so rumor had it. He rarely appeared at court, and was allowed open belligerence and hostility only because he?d proven himself an incredibly lethal henchman for Cronel. So effective that some called him the Royal Blade.

The ebon cowl turned toward her again and Moreya instinctively flinched. She could feel the stranger’s unwelcome eyes rake over her like an icy draft. She could only imagine this was how a poor rabbit must feel under the scrutiny of a black wolf. She couldn?t run, couldn?t speak, couldn?t think. Beyond ascertaining that he stood much too close to her . . . and she had no business with whatever business brought him before the king.

She stepped back one pace, yet another, then was pulled up short as her skirts snagged once more.

She glanced down and discovered the knight’s sword nailed her gown to the leg of a nearby chair. She glanced up into the empty blackness of his cowl and felt a prickle of hot temper. Her father had died, she?d been summoned here to court with no time to prepare or adequately pack her belongings. She?d been told a preposterous lie about some betrothal to royalty in another realm, and now found herself the brunt of a jest with this hooded knave!

"Your weapon appears in dire need of a scabbard," she seethed. "Would you please pull it out so that I might-"

"Ah, as I long suspected, Preece," Cronel sneered. "The lady asks that you pull it out."

This brought snickers from the male assembly and even more unwelcome heat to Moreya’s cheeks. She knew she must be blushing like a springtime rose. The knight made no move to unpin her skirts, curse his soul. It must already be blackened as his awful cowl.

"But I assure you, Lady Fa," the king went on, "This is the first time I?ve ever known Preece to put his sword into a damsel’s skirts. Which is why I decree he’s the knight who shall escort you to Greensward." The king took another drink from his jewel-encrusted cup, then turned to gaze at the forbidding figure.

"Take your besotted friend and however many knights you require. Lady Fa has a personal maid and both have baggage. I shall provide a coach and pack animals. You shall name your usual outrageously ridiculous fee, and I shall agree to half that sum. You depart on the morrow, Warmonger."

"She doesn?t leave this chamber until you sign a pardon for Dugan," came the low response.

The king’s pronouncements, for all their clipped, impatient tone, had not sounded half so commanding as this softly spoken phrase. The hackles rose on the back of Moreya’s neck.

The king abruptly turned.

The royal guards no longer had blades at their backs, but Moreya sensed this could change with the blink of an eye. The throne room stilled as the sense of impending danger mounted.

"My blade now pierces her gown," the cowled knight said, gesturing toward the chair. "Would you have me prove how easily it could likewise pierce her heart?"

The king snarled something in answer, but whatever he said was lost on Moreya. Her knees trembled, the chamber grew dim. Its walls seemed to recede, leaving her more exposed than ever. She couldn?t just stand there! The faceless madman just might slay her, simply to prove he could!

With a peculiarly detached sense of urgency, Moreya gave one last ferocious yank at her skirts.

They jerked free and she tumbled backwards in a heap on the floor.